Top Ten Mac Keyboard Shortcuts

Whether you are a technician, power user or end user, most of us prefer to use the keyboard more than our trackpad or mouse.

Therefore, keyboard shortcuts are something that you can spend ages trying to discover which ones do what and then having to memorise them!

Over the years of using a Mac, I have managed to find quite a few shortcuts to save me having to revert to using my trackpad or mouse for just a couple of clicks here and there. So here’s a list of our Top Ten Mac Keyboard Shortcuts

Most of the more common keyboard shortcuts in OS X are displayed in the menu bar at the left top of the screen.
All Apps including the Finder itself, will show the shortcut keys just to the right-hand side of all of the pull-down menus.
For example, the ‘Edit’ menu of an Application will provide you with the shortcuts for actions such as ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ :
Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 09.28.43
You can see here that using the ‘cmd’ key along with the ‘C’ key will perform a copy, whilst ‘cmd’ + ‘V’ will perform a paste.
Most OS X keyboard shortcuts are therefore the same as they are in Windows, just substituting the ‘ctrl’ key used in Windows for the ‘cmd’ key on the Mac.
The problem with a some of these shortcuts is that they are not so easy to find.
I have blogged various shortcuts before, as have some of my colleagues, but since it is one of the most common questions I get asked by Students in training courses, I thought I would list my top ten.
First of all, it is worth mentioning that all of these keyboard shortcuts rely on what we call ‘modifier keys’.
A modifier key changes the way keystrokes or mouse/trackpad clicks are interpreted by OS X.
The main modifier keys in OS X are:

  • cmd/Command
  • Shift
  • Option/alt
  • ctrl/Control
  • Caps Lock
  • fn/Function

These keys are often represented by special symbols on the keyboard and also in menus and other parts of OS X as follows:
⇪ = Caps Lock
⇧ = Shift Key
fn = Function Key
⌃ = Control/ctrl key
⌥ = Option/alt key
⌘ = Command key
So, let’s get to it and look at my top ten, (the actual keys to hold down are displayed in Italic) :

  1. Spotlight : cmd + space bar = Show or hide the Spotlight search field. Great to quickly launch an app or a document.You can usually just enter the first 3 or 4 letters of the item and you’re there. For example, entering the letters ‘saf’ and pressing return will find everything on your Mac starting with those letters, but Spotlight favours Apps, so ‘Safari’ should launch.
  2. Log Out : shift + cmd + Q = Log out the current OS X user. (You can log out immediately without being asked for confirmation by additionally holding down the option\alt key along with the other three keys for a really quick way to log out a user).
  3. Shutdown : ctrl + option/alt + cmd + Power Button/Media Eject = Quit all apps, then shutdown your Mac. If any open documents have unsaved changes, you’ll be asked whether you want to save them, otherwise this is a very quick way to completely power down your Mac.
  4. Restart : ctrl + cmd + Power Button/Media Eject = Quit all apps, then force your Mac to restart. Installed an update that needs a restart? Have an issue and think a reboot will help? Want to restart your Mac to another system volume? This shortcut is a very quick way to restart your Mac without having to navigate to the Apple menu and select and confirm a Restart.
  5. App Switcher : cmd + tab = Cycle through all of the Apps currently open on your Mac. Perhaps the quickest way to switch from one open App to another.
  6. Summon the Menu bar : ctrl + fn + F2 = Call upon the Main Menu bar to access it without having to use your mouse/trackpad. You can then use the arrow keys to navigate.
  7. Summon the Dock : ctrl + fn + F3 = Call upon the Dock to access it without having to use your mouse/trackpad. You can then use the arrow keys to navigate. (Refer to my previous blog Handy OS X Dock keyboard shortcuts for more details).
  8. Show Desktop : cmd + F3 = Show the Desktop by moving all open application windows to the sides of the screen. (Can also use fn + F11). Everyone dumps stuff on their Desktop, so it’s handy to be able to quickly move all open apps and document windows to the sides and see your Desktop.
  9. App Preferences : cmd + , = Access any Applications’ preferences. Most Apps in OS X have Preferences that can be configured or customized. Using this shortcut will load the current Application’s Preferences for quick access.
  10. Quick Look : Space bar = Invoke Quick Look to preview a selected item. (Can also use cmd + Y). Great to read the contents of a document, listen to an audio file or check a video file without having to open an App first. Plus, Quick Look can preview most file types, even if you have not got the native application installed. For example, you do not need to install Microsoft Office to read Word or Excel files. You can simply select the file in the Finder and invoke Quick Look to access a Read Only version of the file.

Blog Summary
I hope you have found this blog useful.
There are MANY other keyboard shortcuts in OS X and some of these can also be performed with ‘gestures’ on your magic mouse or magic trackpad.
There is a comprehensive list of many of the OS X keyboard shortcuts on our blog and also on Apple’s support site which are well worth referring to.
My colleague Hugo recently blogged about how you can Change or add to the Mac OS X Keyboard shortcuts should you wish to change the default shortcuts or even create your own.
While the author has taken care to provide our readers with accurate information, please use your discretion before acting upon information based on the blog post. Amsys will not compensate you in any way whatsoever if you ever happen to suffer a loss/inconvenience/damage because of/while making use of information in this blog.
These OS X Keyboard Shortcuts were tested using a current MacBook Pro running OS X v10.11.6 which was the latest release of OS X at the time of writing. Most or all of them are standard OS X shortcuts and therefore should still work with earlier and even newer OS X versions and on other models of Apple Hardware.